Densho Digital Archive
gayle k. yamada Collection
Title: Walter Tanaka Interview
Narrator: Walter Tanaka
Interviewer: gayle k. yamada
Location: El Macero, California
Date: October 20, 2000
Densho ID: denshovh-twalter-01

[Correct spelling of certain names, words and terms used in this interview have not been verified.]

<Begin Segment 1>

gky: Okay, the date is October 20th, the year 2000. We're in El Macero, California, and talking with Walter Tanaka, W-A-L-T-E-R Tanaka, T-A-N-A-K-A.

WT: That's right.

gky: Okay, well, you were already in the service when the war broke out.

WT: That's right.

gky: What happened to you when Pearl Harbor happened?

WT: Okay. Well, first of all, I received a draft notice like all able-bodied individuals that were of draft age. And I received the draft notice, and it was on June the 2nd, 1941, that I was called up for service. And I went to -- there were three of us Nisei from our hometown of San Louis Obispo and area, and so the three of us were given a reception, going away reception.


WT: Yes, so first of all, I received a draft notice like other able-bodied American men, and the draft notice for me to report on June the 2nd, 1941. And at that time in San Louis Obispo, which is my hometown, and the smaller towns in that vicinity, but there were three of us Nisei, Japanese Americans, that were called to report for draft duty. And then the local Japanese-American community, which includes the Issei, or first generation, and the Niseis, but the entire community came out and they gave me a party, they gave the three of us a party, at which I had to say a few words, and thank you. And after the reception, they all came to the railway station to send us off. And when they sent us off, when they sent the three of us off, they yelled, "Banzai," you know, typical Japanese fashion. Banzai that we were going to serve in the military. Of course, at that time, we thought that one year of service and our duties were over and then we'd come back home. So we left San Louis Obispo and the train took us up to San Francisco for a physical exam, and then later down to the army reception center at the Presidio of Monterey. And then we were assigned to basic training at Camp Roberts, California. This was about 40 miles from my hometown of San Louis Obispo. So at, in basic training, just like all the other troops that went there, we went for basic training and Camp Roberts was a, the main camp was a training camp for infantry heavy weapons.

And so I was there with the company under the 88th Training Battalion, heavy weapons training battalion and received basic training. And in this company that we were in, there was about four or five Nisei soldiers. And we received in the summer of 1941 -- this is, at Camp Roberts, you know -- the temperature went up to 115 or 120 degrees. And we went out in the field on road marches, and the lieutenant would come out and it was so hot that they would give us, he would give us salt pills to take. And so he would go down the rows and give us salt tablets to take, you know, so that we don't have a heat stroke. And then we went out and the, went on the march. And on occasion, we bivouacked, and we had close order drill on the playgrounds, and they did the usual things like soldiers did in basic training.

And at that time, we were just like anybody else, Americans going into the service and doing their duty and thinking that we would be coming out of the service when our year was over. And we had friends among the Caucasians. There was one Chinese and then the Nisei, and the rest were Caucasian, and we got along very well; there were no problems. And then after basic training at Camp Roberts, then we, our company, was sent to Fort Ord. And this is when we were assigned to regular line units, combat infantry. Well, at Fort Ord they had the 7th Division, infantry division, and this infantry division could be easily recognized by the fact that they had the shoulder patch with the black hourglass and the red background, and the very distinct markings. And so we were with the 7th Division under 17th Infantry Regiment, and I was in Company H. The fourth company in each battalion, in other words, like A, B, C, D. Well, D Company was heavy weapons, and then E, F, G, H. H Company was in heavy weapons. I was in H Company of 17th Infantry Regiment. So mind you, we've had all this training with heavy weapons at Camp Roberts, which included the Browning Automatic Rifle, the Springfield rifle because we still didn't have the new Garand rifles; we fired and stripped and trained with the 60 mm mortars, and 81 mm mortars, and so we got all this training to ready us for the combat infantry, which was at Fort Ord.

So I was at Fort Ord and then, suddenly, on a weekend -- this was on a weekend that I... I had cousins in Carmel Valley, and so on the weekend my relatives came from Carmel Valley, came after me and had me stay overnight at the Carmel Valley where they farmed. Well, the following morning, while I was still there in Carmel Valley, on the radio it was announced that Pearl Harbor was attacked. And, you know, a lot of us, we wondered where Pearl Harbor is. We'd never heard of Pearl Harbor or didn't know anything about it. But Pearl Harbor was attacked and there was a lot of ships that were on fire, and you know, war had started. And President Roosevelt announced that Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor, and that now we were at war, the United States was at war with Japan. And the radio announced that "all troops report back to duty to Fort Ord." And in those days, of course, we didn't have television, but we got the announcement by radio.

So my relatives took me back to camp and, that night or that afternoon, there was just an uproar with all kinds of preparations being made. And I didn't know exactly what was going to happen, but when night came on, jeeps and trucks were pulled out and we went up into the hills of Fort Ord. And what happened was that night, all night long, we loaded ammunition, at least my company men, anyway, that we loaded ammunition into the machine gun belts. And to show you how unprepared we were with something like a war starting and fear that the West Coast might be attacked, that night, they were in fear of troops being in the barracks, sleeping in the barracks, and so we went up in the hills and in the, under the clumps of scrub oak trees, we got out and in the darkness with tents covering our activities. But we had to load up ammunition into the canvas belts in which machine gun bullets would be inserted. And the canvas belts were so brand new, never been used before, that we had a mechanical appliance with which you turned a crank and the bullets would be pushed into the brand new canvas belts and they just wouldn't go in properly. And so we finally had to push these bullets into the canvas belts, into the new belts, with our hands. And so during the night, anyway, I started to get blisters on my hands and you know, bleeding fingers. And we had to do that all night in order to be prepared with the machine guns where we have the ammunition in the belts.

So then the following morning, we went back to the barracks. And they ordered us to put all our clothing and equipment from footlockers and so forth, put them in two barracks bags. One was to be stuff that we immediately would take with us, including our equipment, and the other barracks bag was the non-essentials, personal things that we would store in the upstairs of the barracks. Then we got on trucks and the convoy went to the entire battalion. I don't know where the other battalion, or units went to, but our second battalion, we, in convoy went up to Santa Rosa, California, and, well, up to the time that we went up to Santa Rosa, California, there was no feeling of the fact that we were different. You know, we were American soldiers of Japanese ancestry, but nobody questioned whether we should be there or not. But we went up to Santa Rosa and the battalion were, the entire battalion as a headquarters was quartered in the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, and in an exposition building.

<End Segment 1> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 2>

WT: Okay, so initially, they had Nisei as well as the rest of the troops, you know, Caucasian, or whatever nationality they were, to serve. and I was in a company that was sent out to the beach. There's a place called Dillon's Beach out on the coast, and here we went out there and we had to set up machine guns on the sand dunes, carry our rifle, and then pull sentry duty, or guard duty on the sand dunes. In other words, they feared that there was going to be an invasion of California, apparently, because we put these machine guns on top of the sand dunes and we were prepared in case of any landing that we would fire our machine guns and we had our rifles. And this was in the December of 1941, and so there was some nights that the rain, just pouring rain, you know, the rain poured down. And I remember one night, about midnight, I was going on post and just a small creek that ordinarily during the summer dries out and there was no water and here there was water right up to my waist. And I had to cross this creek that was being flooded to get to my machine gun post.

And so I was serving there, and I can't recall how long I was there, but pretty soon, one day, I got a call from a runner that the captain of the company ordered that all the Japanese Americans be, report back to the company headquarters. So, in that company, there were maybe about four or five of us, or something like that. But, anyway, we got on a three-quarter-ton truck and they took us back to the Santa Rosa fairgrounds. And that's when they had us inside of that exposition building where there were a lot of troops. And we were all bunked in cots right out in the open inside the exposition building and then they never said anything to us. And then one day, they didn't even have us go out for any duty or training or anything. And here they were, by the time we assembled -- there were about ten of us Nisei -- and they, one day they came and they relieved us of our personal weapon, which is the rifle. They took our rifles away, and they said nothing further. And we sat there and just sat around while the rest of the troops, they went about doing their business. So then we thought it was strange, you know, what's going on here? Well, finally, they put a Caucasian second lieutenant in charge of us. And so he was in charge of us and he just took us out for a hike. Every morning he took us out for a hike, and otherwise, we didn't do anything else. But we were being observed, apparently. And then one day they brought county prisoners in to work inside of this exposition building because there were like close to a thousand men, you know. And inside of the exposition building, the troops, when they walked around on the dirt floor, the dust started rising. And this is December, and because the dust was rising, everybody was catching a cold, and things were pretty bad, so they decided to asphalt the floor of this exposition building. So they brought in county prisoners and they called upon us. We were ordered to work with the county prisoners and shoveling asphalt to tar the floor so that the dust wouldn't fly. So, boy, when we had to work with prisoners, county jail prisoners, I felt pretty bad about it. I really thought this was really taking us to a point where we were being discriminated, and not treated like other American soldiers.


gky: Well, when you had to work with prisoners, did any of them make any comments to you all? There was only Nisei working with the prisoners, Nisei soldiers, correct?

WT: This is overseas now?

gky: No, no, this is at Dillon's Beach, it's, I mean, when you went back to the Santa Rosa fairgrounds, I mean you were only Nisei that were working with the prisoners.

WT: That's right.

gky: And did the prisoners ever comment to you about what you were doing, and your race?

WT: No, no. I never had any conversations with them.

gky: And what did you say among yourselves?

WT: Well they -- what's the big deal here, you know, how come we're working for, with prisoners, county jail people, you know. This is certainly discrimination, and how come they have to treat us like this when we were American citizens like everybody else?

gky: Did you think you were going to be fighting the duration of the war with a pick and shovel?

WT: I thought of that later when I was in Fort Custer, Michigan, yes. But prior to going to Fort Custer, Michigan, we went to Gilroy. So they took all of the Nisei out of the battalion at Santa Rosa and they sent us down to Gilroy where they housed us in one of those prune warehouses in Gilroy. And then we slept inside of the prune warehouse. And they had a field mess tent where they fed us and we were transported by army trucks down to the Pajaro River on the south end of Gilroy, the town of Gilroy, what we did there was we worked... some of us worked in the detail to cut down willow trees in the Pajaro River, and then we loaded them up on the trucks and took it to the side of the hill along Highway 101 south of the bridges there, and then on this hillside dug trenches like a trench position. And you know what... a dirt trench, when it rains fills with water and your shoes get muddy, your boots get muddy. And so the willows, the willow logs that we cut were thrown down into the trench, so that in walking in the trench position, you don't get all muddy and wet feet. And so we cut willows. And there was another detail that worked on the hillside where they poured concrete to build pillboxes. And so we wonder, "What is all this?" In Gilroy, of all places. Of course, the 101 intersects with the smaller road that goes towards Watsonville and towards the ocean, and whether they were looking for the possibility that an invasion force or something that might come up the road and -- but it seemed ridiculous that why would they be invading Gilroy and when there's nothing there except it's a rural area? This was apparently a training phase of an engineer unit to practice building trench positions and pillboxes and when their training phase was over with, then our job there was finished.

<End Segment 2> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 3>

gky: You've been recruited for the MIS and for the first class at Camp Savage. What was that like when you got to Camp Savage?

WT: Okay. The thing is, some people ask me, "Did you volunteer to go to Camp Savage?" And I tell them, "Well, I volunteered to go, but there was a reason behind it." I wasn't particularly thinking about that being a loyal thing for me to do. The thing is at Fort Custer, Michigan, from Gilroy, you see, they sent us, about a hundred of us on a troop train to the Midwest because apparently they didn't want Nisei soldiers on the West Coast. I guess maybe they feared, you know, that maybe we weren't loyal Americans, they didn't trust leaving us there. That's the only thing I could think of. But anyway, they loaded us on a train and pulled all the blinds down so we couldn't see out or people could see us inside. And we ended up in, about a hundred of us on that particular train, and we ended up in the Midwest. And part of us, part of our group dropped off to go to Camp Grant, Illinois, to Fort Sheridan, Illinois. And finally the remainder, we went to Fort Custer, Michigan. And at Michigan there were different duties, but they looked at my background. And so here I'm a country kid that grew up on the farm and had work with farm implements, pick and shovel, and you know, things like that. I got assigned to duties at Fort Custer to pitch coal into the furnaces. And so it's snowing in Michigan, yet and every night I took my turn at going around to all the barracks and pitching coal into the furnaces, shaking the clinkers out and pitching coal into the furnaces. And here I was doing that. I don't recall how long I was there exactly, but it might have been a few months. I can't recall any more, but when a team came from Camp Savage, Minnesota, and they wanted to, asking for volunteers who would go to Camp Savage, Minnesota, take a test and if they pass, go to Camp Savage to the army's Military Intelligence Service Language School. And so I thought, "Well, anything's better than pitching coal into the furnaces." I thought that if for the duration of the war, I'm going to be doing something like that in a unit which they called the "Detached Enlisted Man's League," and this is the -- another name for a service unit that did various service jobs at the various army camps, and whether it's latrine duty or clean up jobs around. But, anyway, I volunteered and I passed the exam, so that they said that I could go to Camp Savage, Minnesota.

<End Segment 3> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 4>

gky: This is tape 2 of Walter Tanaka on October 10th, the year 2000, in Macero, California. Walter, why did you volunteer? Here your parents were thrown in camp, and you've been discriminated against already in the army because you're Japanese American. What made you want to go out and fight for the United States with your language?

WT: Well, I've thought about that quite a bit. And I said to myself that, you know, what's happening to us, my parents and my brothers and sisters, Nisei and Japanese American friends, were all placed in, incarcerated in the camps, internment camps. And here I'm volunteering for service to go to Camp Savage and to learn the Japanese language. Well, I said, it's wrong, the way they're treating us is wrong, and that maybe I shouldn't be doing this. But to me, the climate, the situation at that time, is so much different than at any other time. It's a crisis, there's a war going on. And I thought, well, right or wrong, this is America; this is my country. But at this time, what can I do? I felt that I have to serve my country, and if there's any objections or anything to say about it, maybe it's after the war is over at a later date to complain about losing our rights and the family being incarcerated in the camps. Well, like my dad was separately interned because way back around 1925, my father was nominated and elected to become the head of the Japanese Community Association in San Luis Obispo.

gky: So he got sent to a Justice Department...

WT: Yes. So he was interned and...

gky: Tell me, what did your parents say, your father say, when he heard that you had volunteered to go fight in the Pacific?

WT: I had no communication with my family because, first of all, the army said that if Japanese Americans voluntarily went inland, 150 miles inland from the West Coast, that they would be safe, that they would not have to make any other movement. Otherwise, that they would be assembled and interned and sent to the relocation camps.

gky: Did you understand the United States government doing that?

WT: Did I what?

gky: Do you understand why the United States government said that was "military necessity" and they had to do it for security?

WT: Well, it was just too big of a thing that I never thought in those terms. Whether they had the right to do that or not. I thought it was wrong, actually, that here they had Japanese move out, when my folks, they didn't ever do anything wrong, they were farmers. My dad, that one year that he was the president of the local community association, and my dad, he liked to write, and he used to write local news, in other words, happenings among the Japanese community in San Luis Obispo. He would write articles for the Japanese American news, you know, like the Rafu Shimpo in Los Angeles, and up in San Francisco in those days, I don't remember whether it was the Daily News, Shinsekai, the New Daily News or something like that. But for some time my dad did do some work being a local correspondent to give the local news to the newspaper.

<End Segment 4> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 5>

gky: Can we jump to Camp Savage? So you said you were there, you went in June of '42.

WT: Yes.

gky: What was it like? Describe the barracks, can you describe it physically to me?

WT: Oh, that was certainly a shock to see the condition of the camp. The barracks were just filthy. Apparently it was a place for an old folks home, old men's home, they were dirty, like the screen door on the barracks were falling off, and we had to go in and clean up the inside of the barracks. The latrine was filthy and dirty and all that, and we had to clean all that out before we could occupy it as our barracks when we went to school at Camp Savage for a period of six months.

gky: That's pretty unusual also, you go in the army, go back to school.

WT: Well, the thing is... you see, the thing is, prior to World War II, when the army decided to train soldiers for linguistic duties, they went around to all the various camps to recruit, and they were amazed to find that there were very few that would qualify for the language school. And so there were not too many available. Within the army they were still recruiting, and sometimes recruiting people that went to Camp Savage and still didn't, they considered unqualified for linguistic duties. And they ended up as overhead, working in the mess hall or as cooks or KPs or different jobs instead of continuing with the language studies.

gky: Can you talk a little bit about... it was so rigorous, it was so hard that you... how did you study after the lights went out?

WT: Well, compared to some of the Nisei... of course, the top linguists with knowledge of Japanese and both reading and writing as well as speaking it, were the Kibei Nisei, those that got a part of their education in Japan. Outside of that, those of us who were Nisei had never been to Japan ever before. We went to the Japanese language school, but the problem was that, in my family -- this is during the Depression, mind you, during the Great Depression of the 1930s -- that my dad farmed, and because of the hard times and the crops didn't bring the price for the stuff that we grew, my dad was on the verge of bankruptcy and he couldn't borrow any money, nobody had money to lend, and the banks wouldn't lend money. And so we eventually, as a family, we all had to work. My mother, my sisters, my brothers and I and my dad, and we were out in the country so that we couldn't even pay tuition to go to Japanese school. So that compared to many other Niseis, I didn't get that much Japanese language school education. But although my dad was from a village in southern Japan, in Kyushu, from the Kumamoto prefecture, he was a farm boy. But my mother was a city girl from the city of Kyoto, the ancient capital of Japan, and she spoke the standard language. But my father, dad, were very determined to study and do self-education through correspondence courses from a university in Japan. But I would say that I might have had four or five years of Japanese language school studies compared to others that went pretty much through high school in the study of the Japanese language. So I was rather weak in my knowledge of Japanese, particularly the reading and writing of Japanese. Because my mother spoke pretty good standard Japanese language, and therefore I think I obtained the knowledge of the Japanese language as an interpreter.

gky: I've heard it said that people who... some of the people who weren't as proficient in Japanese, when lights went out, they still had fifty kanji a night to learn.

WT: Exactly, and I did that for that six months I was there. And I was in one of the lower classes that still taught the written language, to read and write the written language, the kanji characters. And to keep up with that, memorizing fifty characters every day, I was among those that burned the midnight oil. We went into the latrine, and the latrine lights were always on. So we always studied 'til midnight, sometimes beyond that. I think most of those that went to Camp Savage never forget the kind of studies we had to do at that time.

<End Segment 5> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 6>

gky: That's pretty rigorous training. Why didn't you just say, "Oh, I can't do this," or, "I don't want to do this," or stop trying so hard? It seemed that everybody seemed to want to excel. That's just because it's a Japanese attitude towards education, or was there a stronger sort of personal pride or country pride?

WT: Well, there were some that I think rebelled, like were not too happy, and gave the school supervisor, who was a judge, later judge, John Aiso, gave the school a bad time. There were some of those that were transferred out. And so when they were transferred out, they were transferred out to various units, military units.

gky: Can we jump ahead a little more, can you tell me what it was like to go to Angel Island when you were sent out?

WT: Yes. I was assigned to a air corps team. We were linguists, but we were sent to the air corps. In those days there was no air force like we have today. In those days there was an air corps which came under the army's jurisdiction. So like General MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific, he was the commanding general of the Southwest Pacific, and under him was the 5th Air Force. Well, anyway, those were units. Now, we were at Camp Savage when we graduated, assigned to the... well, maybe I shouldn't say assigned, maybe we were attached to the air corps. And they formed, at that time, in December 1942, upon graduation, there were two ten-man teams. And one was under Sergeant Goda, I was on that team, and incidentally Harold Fudena was in that same team that later had done some work in the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto's plane. But our team was under Goda, and we went to Australia. The other ten-man team was under Sergeant Shunji... I forget his last name. But anyway, this other team, under another sergeant, they went to New Caledonia.

gky: Can you tell me about being on Angel Island, what it was like being so close to San Francisco and yet being isolated on that island?

WT: Yes. Well, incidentally, when we went to Angel Island it was by way of Jefferson Barracks, Missouri, where the two air corps teams were sent. And then we entrained and went from Jefferson Barracks to Angel Island. You know, it was called Fort McDowell, and we were at Fort McDowell, so the twenty of us were there. One thing was comical in that the first sergeant would call roll call in the morning, and he was having a devil of a time pronouncing Japanese names. So he would call the roll and he would come to the Nisei names and couldn't pronounce it well. So he struggled to call our names and have us answer. And finally he got to the point where he didn't bother to call our names, he says, "Well, you Niseis in your unit, are you all present?" something like that. And somebody said, "Yeah, we're all present and accounted for." So then some of the guys wouldn't even get out of their bunks, five o'clock in the morning, and it's cold out there, and getting up for roll call, well, there were some of the guys that didn't get up. And the others would announce that we're all present, and that's how we got by.

One thing on Angel Island, to give ourselves a little exercise, every day we hiked around the island. So that was our exercise, but at night, we would look across the bay, and we'd see the lights shining in San Francisco, and it made us think about Chinese food. So boy, we sure wanted to eat some rice and China-meshi or Chinese food, but we couldn't get it. Then finally our sergeant negotiated or talked with the officer in charge, and they finally approved for us to go into San Francisco with the officer in charge of the group. And as a group we had to stay together, and even when we caught the cable car and went down to Chinatown and all that, we had to stick together so that we wouldn't get lost or separated. But there was one time that we did go into Chinatown, and we enjoyed it very much that we were able to eat Chinese food.

<End Segment 6> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 7>

gky: What was an interrogation like?

WT: You mean overseas prisoners? Yes. I was in the work of interrogation of prisoners of war for about two and a half years. We got overseas to Australia, our team went to Brisbane, Australia, the other went to Noumea and New Caledonia. But Goda's team, we went to Brisbane, and we were in a camp of Nisei linguists in a place called Camp Chalmer, little town of Indooroopilly, Brisbane, Australia. And that's where I was assigned to the work of interrogation of prisoners. Now, with the exception of, I think, there was an early group from, you know, the first class at Fourth Army language school that went to Australia, and they were there. As I understand, two of them became warrant officers. But those of us that went overseas, we started out... well, we were, like most of us were privates or PFCs. And then when we graduated at Camp Savage we became corporals or sergeants depending on what rank we had previously. And then as a corporal, I was in Australia, I was assigned to prisoner of war work. None of the Nisei were permitted to be the interrogator, to question the prisoners. There again... they had Caucasian officers who were the interrogators. This MacArthur's headquarters, being the Allied command, we had the Australian forces, they had the British and Dutch forces, they were all combined in the Allied forces. And so the interrogating officer was from any one of those countries. And so we were assigned to be interpreters, and we would go down to the interrogation cell accompanying the interrogation officer. And we did strictly interpreting work. The officer would ask the question, we would change that into Japanese and ask the question to the prisoner in the Japanese language. And then when the prisoner responded, we'd interpret that into English.

gky: Do you feel like you were trusted, as a Nisei, that you were trusted enough to have you do more interrogation?

WT: Well, you know, during the time in Australia that we worked, they didn't trust us, I don't think, because either that or they felt that we might misinterpret or make an error in interpreting. But they head means of recording that. We had Nisei that worked in another building who recorded our interrogations, and then this report would be given to the officer that he could compare with the notes, or what he could remember from the interrogation.

gky: It really doesn't sound like they trusted you that much.

WT: Not at all.

gky: Having Nisei check up on other Nisei.

WT: So not only did the interpreters work in going down to the cells and doing the interpreting, but we Niseis also -- this is in the interrogation section of Niseis, we took turns in a separate building working twenty-four hours a day covering the prisoners' work, gathering information.

gky: Can you tell me about one interesting thing that happened in an interrogation to you? What's the most interesting thing?

WT: Well, being that I was an air corps unit personnel, I was assigned to interrogations that involved only Japanese air corps personnel, which meant air corps pilots, air crew, ground crew. They could be Japanese army or Japanese navy personnel, but they were strictly connected to the Japanese air units, both the army and navy. And so that's the interesting this, is that we questioned them about their enemy, their unit strengths, the extent of the training that they had prior to coming to the forward areas and their plane was shot down or their units were overrun. We worked on prisoners that had served time in China or even in Malaysia and the invasion of Singapore, various things that were the source of intelligence as to how well-trained or what kind of experience the unit had as far as airplanes. I worked on some interesting information regarding Japanese planes and their tail markings to identify what unit these airplanes were from, and the capacity, the capabilities of the airplanes.

gky: Tell me, how did the Japanese instruct their soldiers or train them differently than Americans in the information that they give out?

WT: Okay, first of all, discipline in the Japanese Army was very, very severe. Like in basic training, the training sergeant thought nothing of taking a recruit and hit him across the back with a two-by-four, knocking their teeth out, doing real severe things to them. In other words, so you could imagine their attitude towards prisoners, their own men in basic training, to indoctrinate them, to train them, and to put them in the state of mind where that, to them, the war was life and death. Also the fact that at the time of World War II, Japan was not a member, a signatory to the Geneva Convention. And so they didn't care about whether... they said that they would never become a prisoner regardless of the circumstances, and the prisoners time and again told me that if they... when they were captured, that that was worse than death. Even if they were unconscious and were about to drown in the water or crash landed and were wounded, severely wounded, unconscious, and thus became prisoners, regardless of the circumstances under which they were captured, still it was just a disgrace worse than death.

<End Segment 7> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 8>

gky: Okay, tape three with Walter Tanaka, October 20, 2000, in El Macero, California. Okay, so can you talk a little bit about the soldiers and their belief that they are invincible?

WT: Uh-huh. Well, early in during the war, their esprit de corps was very high. And they, sometimes they refused to talk. But we have our ways and means of their coming to realize that it was futile for them, or they felt it was futile for them to resist or tell a lie because we would catch them in a lie and things like that. And then the one thing is, they're lonely, they're prisoners in the cell, you know, waiting for interrogation, and they were lonely people, you know. They want somebody to talk to. And yet, when you talk to them, they say, "Well, I'm not going to say anything more," or, "I refuse to talk," and all that. But fine, if they refuse to talk, they'll sit in their cell and then if they refuse to talk, we can put several of them in the same cell and they talk about geisha parties and the kiisan girls or the women in China if they had served in China and things like that. But at the same time when we find out that, you know, they served in China, or they served in Malaysia, or they were part of a combat, you know, hardened, experienced soldiers. But towards the end of the interrogations, they will, they get to the point where they feel that, "Well, now what are they going to do with me? What's going to happen to me?" And so, at that point... well, in the meantime, you see, the interrogator, he's basically stern and demanding about getting information, and the right information, the correct information. And so we reflect that in our interpreting, but in between, well, if they're cooperative, we tend to be kinder to him and, well, I would offer them a cigarette, or a piece of candy, or something. And they're dying for a cigarette if you smoke. They hadn't eaten a piece of chocolate candy or something like that for god knows how long they were in the service. And so they were receptive to that and were willing to talk. But, finally, when it comes towards the end of the interrogation, they say, "What are you going to do with me? Where am I gonna go?" And they said that, "Australia is a big continent, a big country with a lot of space." And says if you would just let us out in Australia and if they had a little plot of land where they could grow some vegetables and live out the duration of their life, you know, that they would be satisfied with that. We said, "Well, no, when the war's over then we're gonna send you back to Japan." They said, "No, you can't do that because I'll kill myself, or I'll jump off the boat and commit suicide." And they were very serious about it. And they begged, you know, that they would not be sent back to Japan. It was pretty pitiful, tragic that they felt that way and felt that there was no other recourse. But the Japanese army was very demanding, just like in basic training the way they treated the soldiers, and they were taught to die for the emperor. And so that was their mindset.

gky: So sometimes you'd give them candy, sometimes you'd give them a cigarette. How other little ways would you be quote/unquote "nice" to your prisoners?

WT: Well, that's about the extent of what we could do. We, rather than talking to them harshly, we kind of talked and sympathizing with them and their predicament, and assured them, or tried to assure them that when the war is over, the things will be different, you know, that he should be able to go to Japan. But it's something that they'd have to go through a lot of indoctrination or meet up with other prisoners and eventually see, from the number of prisoners, how they're pretty much losing the war. And there was a lot of inequalities in what they had in the Philippines, like in Manila. Japanese officers were living it up and enjoying things in the rear echelon while in New Guinea, they were just starving to death. By the time I went to Hollandia, New Guinea, where I was the interpreter for Australian naval lieutenant commander, and I used to go to the prisoner war enclosure and we interrogated prisoners there. And we would see some of the many prisoners there that were just absolutely skin and bones, just practically starved to death, and sick with dengue fever and malaria and diarrhea. And all that that they were just human, practically human skeletons.

gky: So the physical condition of the soldiers who you interrogated was pretty poor?

WT: Yes, towards, as the war progressed.

<End Segment 8> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 9>

gky: How did you feel, being a Nisei, sitting across a table interpreting for an interrogation? You're Japanese American. Here you are facing the Japanese. Do you have strong feelings of being American or did you have strong feelings of your Japanese-ness?

WT: Well, my feelings was from the very beginning, that right or wrong, this country, though they violated, you know, the Constitution, and incarcerated my family, and they discriminated against me, we Nisei experienced discrimination from way back in the time we were school days. And my dad experienced discrimination from the time when he came to this country in 1900 when he was seventeen years old and lived all his days until he died, he lived in the United States. And my dad, here's what my dad said, although he was in Santa Fe, New Mexico, he was held in internment, and then he finally joined the rest of the family in Poston, Arizona. But my dad wrote to me when I was in Australia, and he said that he plans to go back to Japan. He lost everything with the evacuation and we had nothing. We were poor and there was nothing for him here and he couldn't own land and he couldn't become a naturalized citizen of the United States because of the laws, and all that. So he says that, well, he was at a relocation camp. He finally resolved that he was gonna go back to Japan. Actually, he had nothing to go back to Japan, and yet he said he's gonna go back to Japan. However, he wrote to me that he says, "You are an American citizen," that, "Your loyalty is with the United States." And he said that, "Don't do anything cowardly while you're overseas and serving in the army that -- serve your country. America is your country." That's his attitude. But he felt that his place was to go back to Japan where he had nothing, really.

gky: That's funny, because he would split up the family because of -- I mean it's just so hard to conceive.

WT: Well, you know what I did?

gky: What?

WT: I went to the Judge Advocate's section in the army and I asked, "What can I do? I don't want my father or my family to go back to Japan." Like some people went to Tule Lake and did go back to Japan. "What can I do to prevent them from going back?" And the Judge Advocate General section said, "Well, why don't you talk to the American consul in Brisbane?" So I went over to the American consul in Brisbane, Australia, and I told them all about my family and the situation. And so the American consul told me, he says, "Well, what you do is you go back to your unit," and he says, "Write me a letter describing all the things that you have told me, and mail the letter to me." And he says he'll send it to Washington. So that's what I did. I went back and I wrote a letter to the consul and mailed it, and he sent the letter to Washington, D.C., to the State Department who, in turn, sent it to a welfare representative at Poston, Arizona. And the welfare representative went to talk to my dad. And also, I wrote to friends of my dad, and asked them to help, begged them to help me to change my father's mind. And everything seemed to do no good. My dad was a, you know, pretty, you know, friendly sort of guy, but once he made up his mind, he was like a samurai, you know. He was really determined then. And so I wasn't getting anywhere. I finally resolved that there's nothing that I could do, that my dad was going back to Japan. And in his final letter to me when I was in New Guinea, my dad said, "There's a Japanese proverb, and this proverb says that 'Tora wa shinnde kawa wa nokosu. Hito wa shinnde namae wo nokosu,'" which translates in that 'when a tiger dies, he leaves his skin.' In other words, a valuable skin. 'When a human being dies, that his name, he leaves his name, he leaves his honor.' And therefore, my dad says, "Never do something dishonorable." He told me to serve my country, America, and just forget about them. This is the end. This is the last letter he's going to write to me.

Unfortunately, as the war got close to the end, my dad talked to some influential people. Particularly, there was an assistant professor from the University of California. My dad always admired educated people, and if he could have, he would have let me go to college, but there was no chance at that. But, anyway, he said he was going to go back to Japan and for me to serve my country. One person that really supported me all through my army career during the war was my civics teacher in the San Louis Obispo High School. And he was the one person that wrote to me, not that frequently but from time to time, he wrote to me. And he, you know, sympathized with me. He said that what they did to the Japanese was wrong, that he certainly thought that it was wrong and that they should have never placed the Japanese Americans in the internment camps. And he eventually, from San Luis Obispo, where he didn't become the principal of the school because, after the war ended, the coach was popular and became the principal. But this Fred L. Petersen, my civics teacher, he became the principal of the Laguna Beach High School and subsequently became the superintendent of schools of Laguna Beach. And after the war, and when I was on my way to Korea, I got to Korea after the conflict was over, after the fighting was over, but I served a year in Korea. And on my way to Korea, I stopped in Laguna Beach at the Rotary Club. Fred L. Petersen, a Rotary Club member, and another person there who happened to be the commanding officer of the ATIS, Allied Translating Interpreter Section, and his name was Colonel Sidney Mashbir; he was there. And, surprisingly, I met him. And I met Fred L. Petersen and both of them placed me in the middle between them. At that time I was a captain in the army and I was down there in my uniform and they really got up and gave me a pat on the back and said nice things about the fact that I was in the service and served the United States. And thereafter, I went to Korea which was my last service before I discharged from the army after twenty years.

gky: But, okay, you were successful in keeping your father from returning to Japan, weren't you?

WT: Yes.

<End Segment 9> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 10>

gky: When you were serving in the occupation, do you remember what it was like when you first went to Japan for the occupation?

WT: You know, I could hardly believe what happened to me in that I received a direct field commission while I was in Manila, and I was selected as the interrogating officer. In other words, as the war was ending, it was in August of 1945, but I was commissioned second lieutenant in the army as an interrogating officer. And one other Nisei, a very fluent linguist who later served as a monitor in the war crimes trials, a fellow named Sho Onodera. And he was, had graduated high school, I guess, in the United States. Also high school in Sendai High School in Japan, and he was commissioned as a translating officer. And the two of us went to Leyte to Tekluan, which was the headquarters of the United States 8th Army. So we were assigned there each with a ten-man Nisei team, and then we went into Japan. We flew into Japan and the plane that I went on, we're all full colonels. They were staff officers of the United States 8th Army. Commanding officer was General Eichelberger, Robert L. Eichelberger. But when we approached Japan, it was like seven o'clock or thereabouts in the morning. From Okinawa we flew to Japan, and as we crossed the beach to the island of Honshu, south of Tokyo, of all things, suddenly the cloud disappeared as we got lower in elevation and of all things, I saw Mt. Fuji. For the life of me I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Here, all my life as a kid, you know, my folks talked about Japan and about Mt. Fuji and the beautiful scenery and snowcapped mountains on winter days and, you know, Mt. Fuji would be on all kinds of magazines, covers and places. And here I didn't know anything about Japan as far as seeing or ever going there because my folks never went back to Japan in all their life until then, and then here none of us kids have been there and, all of a sudden, here I am going into Japan and into the occupation of Japan. The first day of the occupation, August the 30th, 1945, and we landed at Atsugi Air Base and went into Yokohama, but it was an experience that I just couldn't believe what was happening to me, that here it is, Japan, and it's something I heard about during my days but, like any American kid in school, from first grade in school we pledge allegiance to the American flag and we grew up with mostly American Caucasian kids, and now here I am in Japan for the occupation of Japan. One thing, the faces of the Japanese that were at the Atsugi Air Base, Atsugi Air Field, was something that just struck me in that they had just lost the war and suddenly Americans, including myself, had landed, and the emperor said, "Lay down the arms, don't resist, and accept the Americans, and you know, don't create resistance." And they were there to provide us with transportation at Yokohama because we flew in, there were others by ship or you know, by other means that got, arrived in Japan and a large convoy was formed, and from Atsugi to Yokohama is a 20-mile distance and with MacArthur in the lead, and General Eichelberger, and a lot of the staff personnel. But I was on one of the jeeps that you know, I rode in the convoy into the occupation of Japan.

gky: And that was... MacArthur was leading that convoy?

WT: Yes.

gky: Okay. You know, what you said, that the faces of the Japanese people there, can you describe them? Happy? Sad?

WT: You couldn't tell whether they were...

gky: Sorry, I stepped on you.

WT: Yes.

gky: Would you start again? Okay, what were the faces of the Japanese people like?

WT: These Japanese people were there, were mostly ex-soldiers. Still, since they didn't have much clothes left, you know, they were wearing worn-out fatigue uniforms, and they had those little caps on like all Japanese soldiers had on those days, and they were there to provide us with transportation. Not the staff because we had jeeps, a few jeeps and then a limousine, a black limousine with the stars for MacArthur, and then General Eichelberger with the stars for his limousine. The Japanese government provided and got those two limousines ready and, otherwise, they had Japanese buses, they had Japanese army trucks, all the vehicles they could get together. And these Japanese I would think were ex-soldiers. But they had to drive the trucks that convoyed us into Yokohama. And MacArthur had his headquarters in Yokohama for, I think, several weeks. Thereafter, he went to Tokyo to the Daichi Building. And then General Eichelberger, he and his staff, 8th Army, stayed in Yokohama.

I had one interesting experience. I talked to General Tojo several times. After I was there several months, Tojo still hadn't been apprehended. But I say several months but I don't exactly remember how long it was after we got there. But the military police and the counterintelligence corps went to Tojo's house to apprehend him and bring him in to the Sugamo prison. No, actually, it was before the Sugamo prison. It was at the Omori prison in the causeway into a little island between Tokyo and Yokohama where, in a stockade there, they kept Allied prisoners during the war. Well, when the war ended, all the Allied prisoners were released and then the major war criminals were placed there. But, anyway, Tojo, when he was being apprehended, he asked to be, to get some of his clothes to go along with the military police. So he and his wife went into the house. Now the GIs, the military police, should have walked into the house, but suddenly they're faced with a Japanese house with tatami, a mat floor, and apparently they had learned something about Japanese homes and the customs. And in a few months or whatever time that, before he was apprehended, that they learned these things. But, suddenly, when they went to apprehend him at his house, Tojo said that, "Excuse me, I have to go get my clothes." So instead of following him with wearing their combat boots and going into the house, the people that went to apprehend him stayed at the entranceway. You opened the little gate and then you wait. And there's a place where you would sit and take your shoes off, but they just waited there. They didn't want to walk up on the tatami floor. In the meantime, Tojo went in the back, into a closet, pulled out a pistol, and shot himself in the chest. And it missed his heart so he didn't die. And then they rushed him to the army field hospital in Yokohama where an American sergeant, a GI gave him a blood transfusion. And I understand at that time here in the United States, big headlines here, "American GI gives Tojo, the enemy, red-blooded American blood and saved his life."

<End Segment 10> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.

<Begin Segment 11>

gky: Walter Tanaka on October 20th, the year 2000 in El Macero, California. Walt, just a couple more questions. How did you feel about being a Nisei, person with a Japanese face in Japan, and yet your loyalties are with America?

WT: Well, I always felt that America's my country, and even though they might not accept me, or, you know, discriminated against me, that regardless, this is my country. What other country is my own, you know? I don't know anything about Japan in terms of question of loyalty to the emperor or what is that, you know? I had no feelings like that. But I did feel that, right or wrong, this is my country. And regardless of what they do to me at the war, that it's my duty to serve, to serve our United States. And so I always felt that way about the United States.

gky: How about, what kind of a thing do you want your children to remember, to know about your military service and the United States?

WT: Well, I want them to feel proud about my service to the United States. I have a son and three daughters, and I encouraged my son, when he was going to San Jose State, I encouraged him to take up judo. He loved western wrestling in high school and continued it in San Jose State, and he continued wrestling. But I told him, "Take some judo." So to satisfy me, he took one semester of judo, and he didn't like it so he quit. And then, after two years at San Jose State, he went to Cal Berkeley, and at Berkeley -- oh, in the meantime, I said, you know, we didn't have a lot of money to send our kids to college, what little we had, I used up all my insurance money and whatever we could, and the kids earned scholarships. So when he went to Berkeley, I felt that, well, "Why don't you... two more years of college at Berkeley, and why don't you apply for West Point?" I figured he might do well to go to West Point. And no, he didn't want to go to West Point. But he satisfied me in terms that he joined the ROTC. So he took ROTC for two years. I felt he would make a good officer if he had tried for West Point, but he never did, and he's a biochemist now, but he wasn't interested in continuing from ROTC. In ROTC, he went one summer to Fort Lewis. Another time he went to Fort Benning, Georgia, and another and in his platoon in Fort Benning, he was honored by getting, he won the plaque. And so to that extent, I tried to steer him towards a military career. But he's a biochemist with a pharmaceutical company after teaching at the University of Wisconsin for about twelve years. Then my daughter coming along, the eldest one, she went to Stanford. And fortunately, there was a state scholarship, there was a Stanford scholarship and all that, and they, my kids hashed for their meals and worked summers, and they worked ever since they were kids when I sent them out to the farm to pick blackberries and things like that but...

gky: You say that you would want them to be proud of your service. How do you feel about looking back? There's something that the Iwo Jima Memorial in Washington says, it says, on the inscription on the bottom says, "Uncommon valor is a common virtue." Do you think that that's applicable to the service that you gave to the United States during the war?

WT: Well, you know, the type of warfare for us linguists in the Pacific, with some exceptions, where a Nisei served in pretty much in close combat and made a name for themselves. But the kind of work we did is not in the category of valor. In other words, valor is you're ducking bullets and getting shot at and shooting back. It's that kind of warfare. Our warfare in, as linguists was the tool of using language to gain information about the enemy, and supplying information about the tactical units, enemy units in front of us, the tactical, the strategic information for targets for our B-29 raids and for navy and their guns and artillery, and that kind of thing. But with the exception of those with outstanding service, meriting valor, we served, but in a different way.

gky: Can you elaborate on that a little more? What do you mean when you say, "We served, but in a different way?"

WT: Well, we did our best in getting information from the prisoners. I know that there were times when through the interrogation and asking questions of the prisoners to get the entire information about enemy units such as the aircraft, type of aircraft, their capabilities, their numbers, the ability of the pilots, the training or the actual combat experience that the Japanese pilot had, and the unit commander, what kind of a person he is, what track record he has of leading the troops, and being aggressive or defensive, or everything about the enemy forces. And in this way we helped provide target information. We helped gaining information that ended up in the, their units being targeted for bombardment by the air force or by naval units and things like that.

gky: Anything else you that can think of?

WT: No, I don't think so, except that we had hard times. Our parents had a hard time. We could be thankful that today, after these many years, that it's a better democracy or more understanding America that considers that minorities are just as good Americans as the majority, and we could be proud of this country, and look at all the opportunities, the avenues that have been opened through our service and through the efforts of our kids themselves. They studied hard, they worked to earn money and, you know, helped put themselves through school. And so my message to all Americans is that, you know, it's not what... just like Kennedy said, "It's what your county could do for you, but what you could do for..." "Not what your country could do for you, but what this country could, what you could do for your country." [Laughs] I got this mixed up again.

gky: Say that again.

WT: That, you know, it's a question of "Not of what this country could do for you, but it's what you can do for your country," and that, you know, persevere, work hard, and be successful and, in turn, help this country to remain a leading nation, and a nation that supports democracy. And that we're fortunate to live in this country with all the things that we have, and that don't squander this, or don't waste it. You still have to work for many things.

gky: Thank you very much.

<End Segment 11> - Copyright © 2000 Bridge Media and Densho. All Rights Reserved.